Analysis

3 Chicago Blackhawks To Watch Vs. Penguins In Preseason Opener

By Colin Likas
Jun 12, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley (6) hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the San Jose Sharks in game six of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 12, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley (6) hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the San Jose Sharks in game six of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /
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Chicago Blackhawks hockey is back on the air tonight, though with some less familiar faces

While the World Cup of Hockey ended the moratorium fans were going through with regard to the sport, we still waited for the return of NHL hockey. Several teams have already started their preseason slates, and the Chicago Blackhawks are joining the party tonight.

The Blackhawks will host the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and be featured on Comcast SportsNet Plus and NHL Network.

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Now, if you’re tuning in to this game hoping to see the typical Blackhawks lineup, you’ll be disappointed. This is the first of six preseason games for the Blackhawks, which means they’ll be using a lot of their younger players.

The goal here is to give these guys a shot to crack the opening night roster. The Blackhawks have a couple holes among their forwards, so these games will be important for Joel Quenneville and Co. to determine who best fills those positions.

Who will be playing tonight?

Let’s look at the Blackhawks’ projected lineup for tonight’s affair at the United Center, courtesy the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus.

Nick Schmaltz-Vincent HinostrozaRichard Panik

Tyler Motte-Tanner KeroRyan Hartman

Alexandre Fortin-Luke Johnson-Jordin Tootoo

Martin Lundberg-Dennis RasmussenMark McNeill

Brian Campbell-Gustav Forsling

Michal Kempny-Ville Pokka

Viktor SvedbergTrevor van Riemsdyk

Scott Darling-Mac Carruth/Lars Johansson

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Apr 7, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; North Dakota Fighting Hawks forward Nick Schmaltz (8) backhands the puck for a goal against Denver Pioneers goalie Tanner Jaillet (36) during the third period of the semifinals of the 2016 Frozen Four college ice hockey tournament at Amalie Arena. North Dakota won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

Schmaltz and Motte are among the youngsters who could potentially crack the opening night roster, so their placement on the top two lines makes sense. Hinostroza, Kero and Hartman are guys who have received short runs with the team the last two seasons and who could also make this year’s roster.

McNeill will be making his United Center debut tonight. The Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick in 2011, who made his NHL debut in Carolina last season, is part of the bottom six. This would seemingly add to the idea the team has soured on McNeill, as placing him below even Tootoo in the lineup doesn’t place a lot of promise on him.

The last point of interest among the forwards is Fortin, who signed an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks earlier this week. His lining up with Johnson and Tootoo makes for an interesting trio.

Forsling is clearly being given a shot to make a run at the Blackhawks’ sixth defense spot, as he’s lining up alongside the veteran Campbell. The defensive pairings tonight display various options for the Blackhawks’ second and third pairings.

At goaltender, meanwhile, typical starter Corey Crawford is still with Team Canada for the World Cup. So Darling will get some early run, while the other two goaltenders the Blackhawks have at camp will also be in the mix.

I’m not entirely sure of the Penguins’ lineup for this game. Some familiar faces in attendance will be Trevor Daley, Chris Kunitz, Brian Dumoulin, Tom Sestito, Eric Fehr and Ryan Haggerty. You’ll remember Haggerty was a minor leaguer with the Blackhawks last year.

Now, let’s take a look at three Blackhawks to watch in this game.

chicago blackhawks
Jan 21, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA;Chicago Blackhawks right wing Richard Panik (14) works out prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Richard Panik

Panik is kind of the wild card in the top six for this game, as the expectations for him next season are relatively uncertain. While the other five guys in the top six are fighting for a roster spot, Panik has been discussed as playing alongside Jonathan Toews or playing in the bottom six.

The guys Panik are playing alongside tonight offer enough offensive upside to give Panik chances to score. Schmaltz is a strong playmaker and shot producer, while Hinostroza will be in his natural position instead of on a wing, as was typical for him during his previous time in Chicago.

If Panik wants to prove he can handle top-line duties in the regular season, he needs to have a good performance in a situation like this.

chicago blackhawks
Jan 26, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Mark McNeill (41) watches the play against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-0. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

Mark McNeill

Like I said above, we’re getting more and more indications that McNeill’s spot with the Blackhawks is far from cushy. He’s slotted with Rasmussen, a center who doesn’t do much offensively, and a relative unknown in Lundberg for this game.

I’m curious to see how McNeill fares in a role that isn’t meant to see him be a primary goal scorer, but one that is meant to see him be more of a defensive forward.

That may be something that’s holding McNeill back from an NHL career — not showing enough tendencies as a defensive forward. If McNeill is able to play a solid two-way game during his run in training camp and any preseason games he plays, that could improve his positioning with the team.

Gustav Forsling

Forsling is a potential Blackhawks defenseman of the future, and they’re giving him a push this preseason. Having him play alongside the veteran Campbell is a sign they’re willing to put more trust in Forsling.

Forsling is a playmaking blueliner who is really good at moving and distributing the puck. Campbell has offensive tendencies as a defenseman, but he’s a guy who has been around the league a time or two. He can mentor Forsling in various areas on the ice.

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Forsling is a defenseman some Blackhawks fans may not be familiar with, and he’ll be a guy worth watching in tonight’s game.

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